Scoring Speech: How the Biden Administration has been Quietly Shaping Public Discourse

Below is my column in The Hill on the release of a new Disinformation Index by a group partially funded by the Biden Administration. Gabe Kaminsky at the Washington Examiner previously ran a story on the Index. The Index appears heavily biased against conservative or libertarian sites. I previously discussed the bizarre inclusion of a legal analysis site of conservative and libertarian law professors.  It is easy to dismiss such transparently flawed work, but this is an effort to target advertisers and to justify a type of cancel campaign. It is also part of a more comprehensive effort by the Administration to censor or isolate certain views or groups in the public debate. [N.B.: After this column ran, the National Endowment for Democracy wrote to inform me that it had decided to stop funding the Global Disinformation Index].

Here is the column:

Last year, the Biden administration caved to public outcry and disbanded its infamous Disinformation Governance Board under its “Disinformation Nanny,” Nina Jankowicz. Yet, as explored in a recent hearing (in which I testified), the Biden Administration never told the public about a far larger censorship effort involving an estimated 80 FBI agents secretly targeting citizens and groups for disinformation.

Now it appears that the administration also was partially funding an “index” to warn advertisers to avoid what the index deemed to be dangerous disinformation sites. It turns out that all ten of the “riskiest” sites identified by the Global Disinformation Index are popular with conservatives, libertarians and independents.

The index, run by a British organization, appears to be an effort to score and sanction sites based on their “reliability” to those in the political and media establishments.

That sounds like a knockoff of China’s “social credit” system which scores its citizens, based in part on social media monitoring.

Clearly, the Administration never abandoned its intent to fund and field efforts to curtail speech on the internet — with the support of many in the media and academia. In an Atlantic article in 2020, for example, Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods declared that “in the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.” They concluded that “significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet, and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with society norms and values.”

Despite fierce opposition from Democrats in Congress, Twitter continues to release evidence of a comprehensive effort by FBI agents to coordinate the banning or suspensions of people accused of disinformation, including people who were clearly joking.

The Global Disinformation Index (GDI) is a particularly insidious part of that effort. Funded in part by $330 million from the U.S. State Department through the National Endowment for Democracy (which contributes to GDI’s budget), the GDI was designed to steer advertisers and subscribers away from “risky” sites which it says pose “reputational and brand risk” and to help companies avoid “financially supporting disinformation online.”

GDI warned advertisers that these sites could damage their reputations and brands: the New York Post, Reason, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Wire, The Blaze, One America News Network, The Federalist, Newsmax, the American Spectator, and the American Conservative.

The inclusion of Reason was particularly glaring; the site regularly posts legal analysis from conservative and libertarian scholars. With the diminishing number of such academics on university faculties, Reason is a relative rarity in offering a different take on legal cases and issues. GDI incorrectly claimed the site offers “no information regarding authorship attribution.” It also said Reason lacks “pre-publication fact-checking or post-publication corrections processes, or policies to prevent disinformation in its comments section.”

There is a reason why Reason does not have policies posted on the removal of disinformation: It opposes content moderation policies of groups like GDI on free-speech grounds and disinformation “processes” used to limit free speech.

However, that is the point in this and other disinformation efforts: “Disinformation” appears based on what GDI and the Biden administration believe to be the truth. That may explain why some of the most biased sites on the political left are given higher rankings by the index.

While claiming that the conservative sites lacked transparency, GDI is fairly opaque on its own conclusions and standards. The explanations for tagging those sites are riddled with subjective, ambiguous terms. For example, GDI includes RealClearPolitics due to what GDI considers “biased and sensational language” while heralding sites like HuffPost as among the most trustworthy.

GDI further says that RealClearPolitics “lacked clear and diverse sources.” Yet HuffPost and Mother Jones — both of which rate highly on the index — have a range of diversity that runs from the left to the far left.

In discouraging advertisers from supporting the New York Post, the GDI declares that “content sampled from the Post frequently displayed bias, sensationalism and clickbait, which carries the risk of misleading the site’s reader.” Yet the GDI’s self-appointed monitors of disinformation make no effort to explain what constitutes “clickbait” or “sensationalism” by the Post in comparison to favored sites like HuffPost.

Indeed, GDI’s definition of “disinformation” is heavily laden with subjective terms. including any site that GDI views as offering “adversarial narratives.” Disinformation can include anything that is “financially or ideologically motivated” … “foster[s] long-term social, political or economic conflict” or simply creates “a risk of harm by undermining trust in science or targeting at-risk individuals or institutions.” Under that definition, the Gutenberg Bible might be flagged by some skeptics as disinformation.

Last year, GDI’s cofounder and executive director, Daniel Rogers, wrote an op-ed for Time magazine calling for government intervention to change the “rules that govern the manipulation of our information environment in order to prevent another nihilistic narcissist gaining power.” That includes not just Donald Trump but “someone like” him who lies “outright solely to further their own immediate interests.” Rogers does not explain how the federal government will be barring candidates who might otherwise be elected. He also called for liability for social media companies for any postings linked to a reader or viewer becoming radicalized and violent.

The funding of GDI, and the FBI’s censorship efforts, are consistent with President Biden’s pronounced anti-free-speech policies since taking office in 2021. The president previously asked “how do people know the truth” if social media companies did not control what they could read or hear on these platforms.

The full range of such efforts by the Biden administration is still unclear. What is clear is that the government is working to censor and harass sites with opposing views on subjects ranging from the pandemic to climate change to elections. This includes efforts to deter others from supporting these sites through advertising revenue. The financial viability of these sites could depend on the GDI’s good-citizen score.

Congress should ban the use of federal funds from such anti-free speech grants and programs. The first step, however, is to force the transparency that is being opposed by so many politicians and pundits. That should include any prior such efforts by the Trump or Obama administrations; the public can handle the truth of finding out if our government has been in the business of speech control. Otherwise, we may have succeeded in ridding the government of the “Mary Poppins of Disinformation” but not of her underlying philosophy.

At least the original Mary Poppins was open and warned her wards: “First of all, I would like to make one thing clear: I never explain anything.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at The George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

NB: After this column ran, NED wrote me to emphasize that it is not directed by the Administration in how to spend this money.

112 thoughts on “Scoring Speech: How the Biden Administration has been Quietly Shaping Public Discourse”

  1. ..taking this opportunity on Presidents Day, a holiday especially honouring George Washington & Abraham Lincoln, reminding us of our Freedom, to Thank both Prof. Turley and perhaps The Greatest American University standing to-day, The George Washington University, for promoting and protecting the American institution of Free Speech.. ..seen through Prof. Turley’s work shared on his ‘Res Ipsa’ website. In a world where the discourse of speech is heavily controlled & censored, ‘Res Ipsa’ stands out as a Beacon of Enlightenment… beginning with the sharing of in-depth professional analysis and wisdom by Prof. Turley, always delivered with First-Class Diplomacy.. despite the daily onslaught of vicious, belittling, yet truly comical trolling, mostly from a group of noisy trolls we’ve all had to endure… yet this site allows their fabrications, content hijacking and put-downs to exist.. another attribute of ‘Res Ipsa’ to celebrate. Many Thanks with Appreciation…..

  2. The most telling name on the hit list of GDI is Real Clear Politics, which is assiduous in pairing left and right commentary on topical issues, usually from prominent sources including the Washington Post and NYT. But this is not good enough for our would-be thought control police. It is necessary to print 100% left-wing propaganda or nothing.

  3. This article is about government funding of an anti-free-speech index, hence, the overbearing state is deciding for us what is and isn’t permitted in terms of political opinion. In response, the mantra from leftists on this forum is that some private conservative or libertarian organizations also have an index. They are well aware that is a red herring since they never claim these are government sponsored. Don’t fall for it.

  4. Global Disinformation Index

    “Soros-backed ‘disinformation’ group aims to defund conservative news”

    Conservative media outlets that are struggling as their advertising dollars dry up may have a British-based “disinformation” group tied to left-wing megadonor George Soros in part to blame. The Global Disinformation Index, a “risk ratings” outfit that has received State Department funding, secretly distributes “blacklists” of right-tilting news organizations to advertising companies, according to the Washington Examiner series “Disinformation Inc.” Congressional Republicans called for answers Monday from the State Department. “It ought to scare everybody in this country, regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, that the government is that involved in censoring speech,” Sen. Eric Schmitt, Missouri Republican, said in an email. “The unholy alliance between government and big tech must be dismantled.”

    – The Washington Times

    “China’s ‘social credit’ system ranks citizens and punishes them with throttled internet speeds and flight bans if the Communist Party deems them untrustworthy”

    – Business Insider

    Chinese Social Credit System

    The Social Credit System (Chinese: 社会信用体系; pinyin: shèhuì xìnyòng tǐxì) is a national credit rating and blacklist being developed by the government of the People’s Republic of China.[1] The social credit initiative calls for the establishment of a record system so that businesses, individuals and government institutions can be tracked and evaluated for trustworthiness.

    – Wiki

  5. (OT)

    Marjorie Taylor Greene in 2021: “I don’t want a National Divorce … Divorces happen in court or perhaps for a country can happen in Congress.”

    MTG today:
    “We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states …”

    Is she going to introduce a constitutional amendment breaking up the country? Just what does she have in mind?

    1. Americans suffer “irreconcilable differences” with communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs, AINOs) who are direct and mortal enemies of the American thesis of freedom through self-reliance, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, free Americans and free America.

      1. You, George, are a nut. Given that you so hate the US as it currently exists, I suggest you move to a country that shares your desire for white nationalism.

        1. So you hated the American Founders and Framers too?

          Look at the top of this page you despicable foe!

          My God, man, you hate the inescapable American thesis, freedom through self-reliance, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, patriotic Americans and America itself.

          You hate everything American.

          What you love is Central Planning, Control of the Means of Production (unconstitutional regulation), Redistribution of Wealth and Social Engineering.

          Does, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” Karl Marx, sound better to you than, “Freedom and Self-Reliance,” the Constitution and Bill of Rights?

          Geez, you seem like a communist, comrade.

          1. I wouldn’t have thought that you’d want to further demonstrate that you’re a nut, but apparently you do.

            1. An substantial foot has been fitted nicely into your embarrassing muzzle.

              That foot appears to be clogging your boundless maw, arresting anything profound or even material from exceeding it.

                1. No, sir, the errant “an” was a typo resulting from late rewrite proofing.

                  I accept full responsibility.

                  Now you, you are responsible for your own vacuity of cognition, nay, the full and complete absence of any discernible degree of consequential cognition.

                  Do you have anything, anything at all to contribute?

                  Perhaps you could do some housekeeping, trim up the garden or take out the trash – it is trash day, you know.

                  1. When someone gets elected to high office and takes an oath to uphold the constitution and doesn’t, why can’t their feet be held to the fire?

  6. It is a crime of high office and a violation of U.S. Code to deny a person his constitutional right to freedom of speech, thought, opinion, choice, discrimination, etc., by any means.

    It is a crime of dereliction for elected representatives to fail to impeach, and for members of law enforcement to fail to prosecute, for denial of constitutional rights.

    It is a crime of high office for the Supreme Court to fail to exercise its power under the doctrine of Judicial Review.

    18 U.S. Code § 242 – Deprivation of rights under color of law

    Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States,…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both;….

    Article 1, Section 4

    The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors

    U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

    Judicial Review in the United States

    The legitimacy of judicial review and the judge’s approach to judicial review are discussed.

    The doctrine of judicial review holds that the courts are vested with the authority to determine the legitimacy of the acts of the executive and the legislative branches of government.

  7. (OT)

    “James O’Keefe resigned Monday morning from his position leading Project Veritas, the conservative group he founded, after clashing for weeks with his board. … [He] was placed on paid leave earlier this month amid a dispute with the nonprofit’s board. The board reversed O’Keefe’s firing of two top executives, and received a lengthy memo from unhappy employees detailing O’Keefe’s allegedly “outright cruel” conduct.”

    1. OMG!

      O’Keefe may “move on” and create an organization that is even more effective against communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs, AINOs) in America.

      Keep your eyes peeled.

  8. Testifying before the Arizona Senate, Curtis said that flipping votes is “very easy to do” but “hard to stop.” The only way to stop it is by not using machines, he explained.

    “Don’t use machines, because you can never, ever trust them to give you a fair election,” Curtis warned. “There are too many ways to hack them. You can hack them at the level that I did when you first build them, you can hack them from the outside, you can hack them with programs that load themselves on the side. It’s impossible to secure them.

    “You will never beat the programmer. The programmer always owns the universe. And as long as you have machines — I don’t care which company — as long as you have machines, they are vulnerable to this.”

    The defamation case against Powell and Fox will have to deal with the above problem which is the problem with machine usage. One of my computer systems had a back door so anyone with the key to it could alter anything. It was a necessity, so the one who serviced this computer system could fix problems remotely. Sometimes programers leave such a back door or programs that should not exist, so that they are always necessary. All my most sensitive information was kept on computers not linked to the internet or one another.

  9. NB: After this column ran, NED wrote me to emphasize that it is not directed by the Administration in how to spend this money.,

    I don’t believe their denial.
    I go back to the National Assc of Schoolboards writing a letter to AG Garland, who move at a speed faster than light, to declare Parents attending school board meetings as Terrorists. Then siccing the FBI on parents.

    The initial letter was sold as being a product of the Association, fearing for their lives. But it turned out the White House reached out to them and aided them in writing the letter. Whether Garland led the White House, or the White House gave Garland a heads up, the letter was comming is a coin toss. But Garland created the response before the letter was written.

  10. From the Global Disinformation Index website on its: “Disinformation Risk Assessment: The Online News Market in the United States”

    “In this Global Disinformation Index study on the U.S. media market, the data from the study corroborate today’s general impression that hyperbolic, emotional, and alarmist language is a feature of the U.S. news media landscape. Every site displayed some degree of cherry-picking facts, omitting relevant information, making unsubstantiated claims, and/or using logical fallacies. Moreover, every site in the study used, to some degree, what GDI terms “targeting language,” which demeans or belittles people or organisations rather than simply presenting the news. Importantly, this type of language is distinct from criticism or satire; it is sarcastic, derogatory or hateful language that promotes division and distrust. Furthermore, many of the sites that relied on this type of content specifically covered politics. The data showed that this divisive language appeared on both sides of the aisle with similar prevalence.”

    Bottomline: Regardless of one’s political ideology they should be wary of even their own media preferences.

    1. They pointed out that this is common on BOTH sides of the isle. Turley doesn’t mention that particular fact which ironically is exactly what they state in their analysis.

      “Every site displayed some degree of cherry-picking facts, omitting relevant information, making unsubstantiated claims, and/or using logical fallacies.”

      Turley’s blog meets that criteria ironically. So does Fox News according to the recent revelations that they lied to their viewers in order to keep them from fleeing to another network. The GDI is not wrong apparently.

      1. The GDI is not wrong as far as it goes, but its subjective grading of risk levels is of concern. To arbitrarily categorize 10 prominent progressive online news outlets as low or minimum risk and 10 prominent civil libertarian online news outlets as high or maximum risk is much too convenient and does nothing to convince dispassionate viewers and readers of its impartiality.

        1. They do report their methodology for anyone to inspect. It seems they are being quite objective. The problem is conservative sites may actually be disseminating more disinformation. Fox News makes that case quite clear.

          1. Because it is arguable, it matters little who does it less and who does it more. The problem is that any of them do it. It’s enough that we are divided in our political perspectives. To have media encourage and even dishonestly exacerbate the division is the worst enemy common to us all.

  11. It’s odd that Turley doesn’t link to the actual GDI site. If anyone is curious,

    They even list all their funders.

    “GDI is non-political, nonpartisan, and global in nature. We operate and partner in dozens of countries and with a variety of organisations, all united in combating disinformation and its harms.”

    Here’s the heritage foundation doing the same thing with its freedom index.

    In fact they have multiple indexes that gauge internet freedom, corruption.

    “Freedom House assesses the level of internet freedom in 65 countries around the world through its annual Freedom on the Net report. 2020 scores are available.”

    They rank according to internet, democracy and global

    They are also a private non-profit funded by private individuals AND congressmen who ARE government officials.

  12. Okay Svelaz, The National Endowment for Democracy has now discontinued funding for GDI. You’ve spent the entire morning raging that the funding of GDI was no big deal. It seems that The National Endowment for Democracy thinks otherwise.

    1. “Okay Svelaz, The National Endowment for Democracy has now discontinued funding for GDI.”

      Tit, source? Knowing you often lie. I will need the source that told you they discontinued funding. Keep in mind that it was a grant which is a one time funding.

      1. “Given our commitment to avoid the perception that NED is engaged in any work domestically, directly or indirectly, we no longer provide financial support to GDI. As set forth in our Articles of Incorporation and the NED Act, our mandate is to work around the world and not in the United States. We have strict policies and practices in place so that NED and the work we fund remains internationally focused, ensuring the endowment does not become involved in domestic politics.” – Damon Wilson, CEO of NED, told Breitbart News in a statement.

        That news broke just today. Look for it on any of your preferred online news outlets.

  13. UPDATE: “After this column ran, NED wrote me to emphasize that it is not directed by the Administration in how to spend this money.”

    That’s all fine and dandy; however, it’s irrelevant to the point that the government is funding pure partisan propaganda by surrogate and it needs to stop.

    1. There is a very good reason that I categorically refuse to donate to or join any national or state organizations whether they are non-profit or not. Almost all of these organizations give part of their money away to other organizations and “I” control where my dollars go not these organizations; plus, I have absolutely no guarantee that these organizations will conduct themselves in a manner that I consider ethical and/or moral.

    2. That means Turley’s claim is false. NED came about thanks to Ronald Reagan. Here’s the history of how the endowment was created.

      “The House Foreign Affairs Committee included a two-year authorization for the proposed National Endowment for Democracy at an annual level of $31.3 million as part of the FY84/85 State Department Authorization Act (H.R. 2915). The Reagan Administration had originally proposed a larger ($65 million) democracy promotion initiative to be known as “Project Democracy” and coordinated directly by the United States Information Agency (USIA). When the Foreign Affairs Committee reported out H.R. 2915, it did not include funding for ” Project Democracy,” making clear its preference for the non-governmental Endowment concept. The Administration then voiced support for the creation of NED.”

      It was clearly supported by republicans and democrats alike. The Reagan administration wanted to fund it for $65 million initially.

      1. Svelaz wrote, “It was clearly supported by republicans and democrats alike.”

        You clearly haven’t understood what I’ve written. I don’t give a damn who has supported it, it should be defunded because it’s an advocacy organization and in my opinion the government has absolutely no business funding any kind of advocacy organization, period.


        1. We had to fight the spread of communism somehow. That’s why Reagan and many republicans supported it. It’s still relevant today. Your opposition to funding it seems to lie on the fact that you don’t support the idea of government doing anything that YOU don’t want it to do.

          I take it you would also demand that government get out of the business of supporting pregnancy centers staffed by conservatives bent on preventing all abortions and also Including pro-life groups. Because they are also advocacy organizations. Is that right?

            1. Witherspoon, geez man, calm down. You’ve got to control your emotional outbursts. We get it. You don’t support government support for pro life organizations. Good grief.

    3. Witherspoon: Even Turley doesn’t say what you claim: “The Index APPEARS heavily biased against conservative or libertarian sites.” He knows that all he has to do is suggest to MAGA types like you that there’s “censorship by proxy” and/or “partisan propaganda”, without ACTUALLY saying it and you believe it. That, itself, is propaganda.

      1. Gigi – the websites and publishers listed as “risky” by the GDI are in fact all either conservative or anti-leftist: the New York Post, Reason, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Wire, The Blaze, One America News Network, The Federalist, Newsmax, the American Spectator, and the American Conservative. There is nothing “appears” about it. If you cannot concede that fact, it either means you have not visited these sites or you are willfully blind.

  14. Okay everyone, the Biden administration is not directly funding the GDI, what the Biden administration is doing is using a middleman to distribute government dollars to the GDI; therefore, it is funding the GDI by surrogate. This is much like the Biden Administration using non-government entities to censor speech they don’t like, censoring speech by surrogate.

    It’s very clear that the National Endowment for Democracy has become a distribution point for government taxpayer dollars to pure partisan propaganda outlets like the GDI. The United States government should immediately withdrawal all currently allocated funds and stop sending National Endowment for Democracy any taxpayer dollars, period.

    Personally I think the government should also strip NPR of all government taxpayer dollars and I’m absolutely certain that there are more that should be stripped of government taxpayer dollars.

    1. Witherspoon, do you even know what the national endowment for democracy is? Did you look it up?

      “In 1983, The National Endowment for Democracy began its work supporting freedom around the world. Today, NED is a comprehensive support system for democrats in more than 90 countries. The Endowment is both a keystone of President Ronald Reagan’s legacy and a rare example of bipartisan cooperation and solidarity.”

      Even Senator Marco Rubio supports the endowment.


      The whole mission of the NED was to spread the ideal of democracy around the world. It was what Ronald Reagan always supported and that’s why congress keeps funding the program that the state department uses to issue grants to these private non-profits.

      This is not “censorship by surrogate”. This is no different than the indexes created by the Heritage foundation and other conservative non-profits.

    2. Similar to the work around used in the allocation of funds to “gain of function”. Agreed, NPR has outlived its usefulness.

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